WASHINGTON — At a Capitol Hill hearing on regulations that keep the trucking industry from efficiently moving the nation’s freight, owner-operator representatives testified that the biggest impediment may be a speed limiter regulation yet to be rolled out.

“All kinds of studies show that when all traffic flows at the same speed, it’s much safer for everyone,” Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told the highway subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday.

“And if you slow all trucks down to 60 mph, it’s going to take more trucks to move the same amount of freight, which adds to more congestion.”

Pugh pointed out that when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sought feedback last year on plans for a rulemaking on a speed limiter mandate, it received mostly opposition in the nearly 16,000 comments generated. “That’s record-setting — yet they still plan to move forward,” Pugh said.

Republicans on the committee agreed with Pugh’s position, but Democrats who signaled their support for a mandate pushed back.

Questioned by Chuy Garcia, D-Ill., on his support for legislation recently introduced that would prevent FMCSA from issuing a speed limiter rule, Pugh responded that only a handful of states still have split speed limits for cars and trucks.

“In 1995, states were given authority to set their speed limits, and we feel the states probably know what the safe limits are for traffic moving in their state,” he said.

Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Ohio, disagreed that lowering the speed limit for trucks — which could be included in FMCSA’s anticipated rulemaking — would make roads less safe. When Ohio increased interstate speed limits to 70 mph in 2013, she said, law enforcement reported a 25% increase in crashes.

“While there may have been an efficiency need for the trucking industry, we should also be considering our law enforcement officers and their suggestions, which is that increasing speeds make people less safe,” according to Sykes. “It’s probably one of the reasons why a speed limit increase was tabled in Ohio this year.”

TIA warns of broker fraud

Transportation Intermediaries Association President and CEO Anne Reinke testified that better oversight enforcement by FMCSA of illegal brokers is vital.

“We’re in the midst of a fraud epidemic in the supply chain,” Reinke said, and it is costing brokers, carriers, shippers and consumers roughly $800 million. She told the hearing that while TIA successfully advocated for a national consumer complaint database at FMCSA to report fraud, over 80,000 complaints in the database have never been investigated and no penalties have been assessed.

“Unfortunately, due to a lack of enforcement, there are a proliferation of bad actors in the supply chain illegally brokering freight, registering as carriers using hundreds of different motor carrier numbers, and conducting outright fraud, theft and holding freight hostage, without legal consequences,” she said.

Reinke also emphasized her support for the Motor Carrier Safety Selection Standard Act, legislation reintroduced in the current Congress that would require more rigorous oversight of unsafe carriers as an interim measure while FMCSA works on a longer-term overhaul of its safety rating system.

“The current system requires eyeballs on trucks and their records, but if you don’t have enough inspectors, that means [safety inspections] aren’t done at all,” she asserted.

“Because they have restrained resources, they’re going to visit the big legacy carriers, not the [smaller carriers], because they can’t get to them.” That puts owner-operators at a disadvantage, she said, because they can’t validate for prospective shippers that they’re safe to operate.

Pushback on HOS waiver restrictions, electric vehicle charging

Fuel retailers, represented by NATSO (truck stops) and SIGMA (fuel marketers), took the opportunity to oppose an FMCSA proposal to limit hours-of-service waivers now that the effects of the pandemic have subsided.

“Diesel fuel weighs more than gasoline, so under current weight laws you’re [not able] to fill a truck with diesel fuel before hitting your weight [limit],” David Fialkov, NATSO’s executive vice president of government affairs, told the committee.

“If there’s a hurricane, it’s really helpful to be able to waive that limitation so that you can move an extra thousand gallons of diesel in every truckload.”

Fialkov was also concerned that the federal government is rolling out EV charging stations without taking into consideration the needs of the trucking sector.

“Our challenge in entering the electric vehicle charging market is that it remains unacceptably difficult to identify a viable business case for installing EV charging stations,” he said. “Our view is that these grant programs that are being developed should have a keener eye toward overcoming that challenge.”

Otherwise, Fialkov noted in written testimony, “there is a real possibility that the federal government could squander its opportunity to build a state-of-the-art national EV charging network, and instead install slower, outdated charging stations in places customers don’t want to stop to refuel.”

Other issues discussed included the need for truck parking, which had the support of most lawmakers, and assertions by Cole Scandaglia, a policy adviser for the Teamsters union, that carriers misclassifying drivers as owner-operators is affecting driver working conditions in the port drayage sector.

There was debate as well over whether there is a shortage of drivers that requires more recruiting efforts or if pay is too low and working conditions too poor to keep drivers from considering truck driving as a long-term career.

Scandaglia and Pugh both supported legislation that would require carriers to pay drivers for overtime.

Related articles:

NHTSA truck brake rule under review at OMB

Broker oversight, truck speed limiters among 2023 policy action items

Truck safety lobby pressures DOT on crash prevention

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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